I fell in love hard when I was 18. It was my first time giving my heart away, to a boy with that loose hipped saunter and eyes that always seemed to be glaring at you even though his lips betrayed them with a smile. He smoked and he drank, old enough to buy alcohol, with a voice as dark as midnight. I remember when I met him thinking he’d be like all the others: someone I could charm and fascinate and hypnotize, until entertaining him got to be old, and then I’d vanish in a cloud of smoke and unanswered texts. How wrong I was still takes me by surprise when I look back on the vulnerability he brought out of me. Tenderness as thin as the skin of your cuticles, rubbed raw and left bleeding, constantly waiting for my phone to ring. That was the relationship that taught me you’re supposed to the one that cares a little less in order to have any power.
Then there was the boy I never wanted. But he pursued me and never left me waiting, and he was exactly the band aid I needed at the time. Sometimes when I think about his exasperated sighs and his forlorn expressions I feel the guilt wash through my stomach and I wish that I could say I’m sorry. I wish I could tell him he didn’t deserve what he got from me. But I don’t think it would matter anymore. The cannons have all been fired and betrayals have all been had. Hopefully he’s found someone who waits for him to come home, instead of the other way around.
When I was 17 there was the small time pot dealer with the car as low as my self esteem at the time. He used to stop at the gas station to buy me fruit snacks on his way back to my apartment at 2 a.m. after leaving to go do a run across town. I had just moved out on my own, feeling grown up and free and pretending to be dangerous. He was nice enough, but terribly stupid and fatally immature. I’m not sure now if I was any better at the time, or if I just wanted to be, and never saw myself getting there as long as I was on his arm. I saw a future of dollar store gifts and supped up hatchback cars stretched out before me like a lonely and empty highway that only leads one place, and it’s no place any girl with any sense wants to go. He was the one who made being dangerous seem less romantic. So I waited for him to get back one night and very inarticulately asked him not to come over anymore. It broke my heart a little, the way he just looked at the ground and nodded. Like he was always waiting for people to tell him to stop coming around. For a second I wanted to hug him, but instead I said goodbye and locked the door behind him, wondering for a moment if he’d come back to steal my stuff.
There was the friend, of course, who was tragically in love with me. The boy that I thought was my best friend (and in a lot of ways was) but who was sick in his heart over the impossibility of us ever being together. He was the one who watched as my heart was broken over and over. He was the one who picked me up off the bathroom floor when I was crushed and the phone wasn’t ringing. He was the one there at nighttime, when being alone is the hardest and the house was the quietest. Girls would fall for him and he would be unfazed. People would try to sway him and he would not be moved. In the end I couldn’t tell if it was me that broke his heart with my blindness, or him that broke his own with his determination, or a combination of both. Either way the blood and the wound and the hurt were there between us, which left very little room for friendship anymore.
And last but not least there was the man without a definition. The CPA with soft hands and kind eyes who left me no choice but to love him after the very first time called his t-shirt that he let me wear to bed mine. The one whose life was so inconceivably different than mine, but who’s soul seemed to understand me when I didn’t understand myself. There are a lot of ways to describe him, but none that paint a full picture or tell the whole story. Some stories can’t be told because they’re not the events that happened along a timeline, but instead the feelings that went along with them, the moments of silence where nothing happened at all except all the things that don’t have names or definitions, where something passes between two people that is only felt and understood, but never spoken. I guess in short he’s the one I will always secretly wish on every eye lash and every birthday candle for.
Sometimes I look back on all the men that have come in and out of my life, starting with my father, who was the very first man I met. I think about the men who have traversed the path from my bed to the door and never looked back. I think about the one who took my heart, the ones who left me cleaning up their messes, and the ones who I left cleaning up my own. I think about the boy I’m raising, who will someday be a man himself.
I wonder if I’ll ever get all of this right.
Someday. Maybe. Not yet.